In Search of Book Blurbs

The process of gathering blurbs for a new book is important. At times it can be challenging, but good blurbs lend credibility and may also help identify and connect to the audience for a book.

Hardly any book goes to press without blurbs, so consideration should be given early in the publication process as to who will be asked to provide blurbs. My most recent experience asking for blurbs was for my debut novel, A Floating Life (Arcade Publishing). Ideally, a novelist will find more famous novelists to give their approval to a new title through the affirmation of blurbs. However, I didn’t personally know famous novelists to ask. Also, it would be best if the famous novelists write fiction somewhat similar to the novel to be given a blurb. The review of A Floating Life in Kirkus Reviews gives a sense of the novel: “”At times, Crawford seems to be channeling Kafka or Borges . . . Odd, offbeat, strangely shimmering.” This doesn’t immediately call to mind the writing of any particular group of well-known authors (at least not living authors—Kafka or Borges would be apt but are hard to approach now).

I can say from experience that sending advance review copies (ARCs) to authors you have no connection with is pretty much wasting books. So the issue became who I knew who might know the appropriate authors. This is no guarantee, but at least creates a possibility. For example, a friend knew a very famous author and wrote to ask if he would consider giving a blurb. He replied that he no longer gives blurbs to anyone. I found a very successful novel that I loved and managed to locate an intermediary who knew the author. However, he too was not giving blurbs to anyone.

Finally, with help from Arcade, I managed to gather suitable blurbs for the back cover. If the authors who gave the blurbs didn’t write books similar in sensibility to my own, at least their blurbs were glowing and identified the qualities worth valuing in the novel. It would have been even better if the readership of the authors giving blurbs would be the likely readership for my novel. This would be a shorthand way to identify the audience for the book.

Certainly this particular experience suggests the value of starting the quest for blurbs as early as possible. However, the practicality of that may have to bend before the fact that most authors likely to give blurbs expect to receive ARCs and ARCs aren’t available until the book is close to going on press. Of course, not everyone insists on reading ARCs. Particularly if the author is closely connected to the person giving the blurb, it may be possible to offer a manuscript.

In my experience, blurbs for nonfiction are easier to obtain than for fiction. To take a common case, the author may know a lot of colleagues in the field in which he writes. For example, when I wrote Legal Guide for the Visual Artist and The Writer’s Legal Guide, I knew many people who would be appropriate to give blurbs. Also, the universe of people who might give blurbs was larger, since it wasn’t limited to authors but included heads of organizations in the field, other professionals, successful artists, magazine and journal publishers, and could have been expanded to include corporate spokespeople if that had been appropriate.

My book titled The Secret Life of Money was more of a challenge. An eclectic book using Jungian psychology, economic history, folk tales, and stories about money to reveal our secret feelings about debt, spending, inheritance, the stock market, and related issues, it didn’t match up easily with the work of other authors who might be asked to give blurbs. A long process ensued, starting with a list of people from a variety of fields who might give blurbs. Contacts were made, manuscripts sent out. What made this easier than finding authors to give blurbs for a novel is that an unusual novel is hard to pigeonhole while an unusual book about money is at least about a topic familiar to everyone. So, in the end, it was possible to gather in good blurbs for the book from authors with widely divergent interests that fell under the larger topic of understanding money and its uses (and abuses).

Of course, once a book is published and reviewed, the reviews can be used to bolster the blurbs and give further credibility to the book. This may happen when the hardcover goes to paperback. Or, in the case of a paperback original, when the book is reprinted or revised for a new edition.

All in all, blurbs are important. It’s worth brainstorming early in the publishing process to determine how strong blurbs will be obtained for a title. In fact, the potential strength of the blurbs might in some cases even be considered prior to signing up a book. In that case, the blurbs are part of the author’s “platform,” the ability of the author to sell books through reputation, traditional promotional techniques, a website, social media, and personal contacts with bulk buyers. The sooner a publisher or author can be certain blurbs will help support a book, the more confidently other aspects of the marketing program can be focused on.

The Problem with Lawyers (and Their Education)

The recent meeting of the American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Future of Education brought to media attention the widespread challenges facing legal education. The stresses include a poor job market for young attorneys, the high cost of legal education, the tremendous debt loads of law school graduates, the need for apprenticing opportunities for hands on training, and the divorce of well-paid and tenured faculty from the actual practice of law.

From a slightly different perspective, we can add the cost of legal services to this litany of woes. With legal fees running $250-$500 per hour on average and up to $1,000 per hour for certain specialties such as estate planning, what ordinary human being can afford to consult a lawyer? For the poor, the middle class, and small businesses, legal services are often beyond reach. Litigation, when the hours can mount up without limitation, is like playing Russian roulette. Justice will certainly favor the well-heeled rather than the well-intentioned.

So it isn’t just that a legal education costs too much. It’s that the law has become a tool for the wealthy and far too often fails to address the needs of the vast majority. If cutting a legal education from three years to two years will help graduates enter the bar with far less debt, perhaps it’s a good idea (although the third year of law school does continue the student’s education in the law). Maybe professors are paid a lot (although I’m fairly certain their pay is paltry compared to what they would earn as partners in top law firms) and perhaps some professors are divorced from the daily tussles of law firm practice, but it is a comforting thought that some legal scholars have bed and board to think about something other than billing the most hours to clients.

In short, if we’re going to reform legal education because it costs too much, let’s think about reforming legal services because such services also cost far too much. If we want to make law schools accessible and affordable, let’s consider doing the same for legal services. Let’s make the playing field level—for everybody.

Toxic Theater

I made the mistake of going to Broadway to see The Book of Mormon. The creators of SouthPark did imagine an amusing scenario: a pair of young Mormon missionaries arrive in Uganda where life is so bad that the people hate God. How will the one missionary (who wanted to go to Disney World in Orlando) and the other (who is friendless and a liar) be able to cope?

Unfortunately, they cope with an inordinate amount of filthy language. It’s amazing to watch an audience of apparently normal people laughing hysterically to language that in any other context would be offensive. The overpriced scalper tickets do carry a warning: “Parental Advisory: Explicit Language”. Of course, by the time you have the tickets it’s too late to heed a warning like that.

Does it matter that people have been anesthetized to the meaning of words? So that words once capable of shocking are used so often in comedy—for example, in comedy clubs—that the person might as well be saying “Uh” over and over again. What a shame that the beauty of language, its possible poetry, is violated in a way that many people don’t even seem aware of.

Beyond the language, certain concepts were not suitable for humor (for example, one character believes raping a baby is a cure for Aids). This example could be multiplied, but have the creators of this comedy forgotten that Africa is a real continent with profound and disturbing issues such as some areas subject to endemic warfare that includes the systematic rape of women, poverty, and, of course, disease.

Mormonism might be a fair topic for satire (as might various Christian denominations or even Islam if you aren’t worried about fatwas), but this isn’t satire that punctures myths and leaves a deepened understanding as its aftermath. It is a pricy, parlous, sad exploitation that theater lovers should attend only if forewarned.